WASHINGTON – Diane Shroer is a retired U.S. Army colonel who made the transition from male to female in 2004. When she applied for a job with the Library of Congress as a specialist in terrorism and international crime as David,when she was legally a man,she was hired.
But before she started the job,she told her prospective boss she was going to become a woman. The next day,the female supervisor called and said that she no longer thought Shroer was a good fit for the job.
“In 24 hours,I had gone from a welcome addition to the staff to someone who was ‘not a good fit' because I was a woman,” Shroer,51,said at a congressional hearing Thursday. “Hero to zero in 24 hours.”
Shroer is now a self-employed consultant.
The hearing before the Health,Employment,Labor and Pensions subcommittee “An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace” was the first time transgender people have officially spoken to Congress,according to several witnesses.
It was a follow up to the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act” the House passed last year. The bill would create equality in the workplace for people of all sexual orientations. Originally,the bill also included transgender people,but after that proposal failed in the House,the provision was removed. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate.
Transgender is a term used to describe people who think they were born the wrong sex. Some of them go through a medical sex change.
Thursday's hearing opened up communication between members of Congress and transgender people,and subcommittee members said they would gather more information and may draft legislation to require transgender equality in the workplace.
Rep. Robert Andrews,D-N.J.,said he thinks if someone is the best qualified for the job,he or she should get it.
“I feel strongly that someone's presentation is irrelevant,” Andrews said.
Rep. Barney Frank,D-Mass.,agreed. He said that transgender is a new category for many people and that can be scary,but people will eventually become more comfortable with it.
“People should not be denied the right to earn a living,” said Frank,who is openly gay.
William Hendrix,global leader for Gays,Lesbians and Allies at Dow,an employee group promoting diversity in the workplace at Dow Chemical Co.,spoke about the advantages of equal rights in the workplace for transgender people.
“We know that creating a respectful,inclusive working environment is not only a matter of fairness and equality but also one of critical economic and business importance,” Hendrix said. He said the program has been a journey for the company and that one employee has used the policy to make the transition from male to female.
But others said legislation creating transgender equality in the workplace is immoral. Glen Lavy,senior counsel and senior vice president for marriage litigation with the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale,Ariz.,said some employers have deeply held beliefs and objections to hiring transgender people.
He said there are concerns about restrooms and the privacy of people who do not feel comfortable with people who are transgender using the same restrooms.
Shannon Minter,legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights,said it has always worked for people to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Once they have made the transition into daily life as the opposite sex,they begin using the corresponding bathroom. Coworkers become more comfortable with it,he said.
JC Miller,a partner at Thompson Hine,a law firm,said it would be important to include how employers should handle restrooms in legislation to make sure that it was clear and could easily be put into effect.
She also voiced concerns about future legislation that might disrupt many businesses.
“At times,well-intended legislation is enacted without regard to the practical implications it will have on the everyday operations of the American business,” Miller said.